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Blog: 'Son of a Bitch!'
by the son of a borderline and narcissistic mother

 

All mothers love their children, unconditionally... Right?

Yeah, right. Some of us know that this isn't true, but let's investigate the myth and its damages for a second.

First, the myth. I haven't read the work of the American mythologist Joseph Campbell extensively (ok, I didn't at all, but I saw a few videos of his lectures) but I think he found that one of the recurrent images in most, if not any culture around the world, and through time, is that of the mother idol. Not far from that is the image of the caring mother holding her child. While the cult of the mother, and its association with love, devotion and care, may be a universal phenomenon, it may not be based on a universal truth, but rather, on a universal deception.

If we observe the animal kingdom, we'll see mother fish eating her young ones, mother bird refusing to feed her baby once it's been touched by a human (I've been told), mother whatever leaving the deformed, sick or weak one die without any sign of sorrow, etc. We don't eat our own babies, but are we so different? Are we so much better? That's what we like to believe. And maybe we are. But you can't sell me the concept of the universal loving mother. I know from experience that it's just not true. It's a myth.

Second, the damage of the myth on the mother. The myth doesn't really serve the mother any better than the child. Because it puts pressure on every mother to feel unconditional love for every living thing that pops out of their body. Problem is, they don't always feel it… A bit tired, not emotionally there, in pain after what feels like a mediaeval torture session... Many women claim that the torture of child birth is the greatest secret ever kept from themselves, between themselves. Not only do women hide it form one another, they also repress it so that they do it again, and again… Oh shit, I forgot this was so painful, they say to themselves as they feel their spine disintegrate and their most intimate spot shredded apart while Alien prepares to burst out of their gut…

After that, mother doesn't feel in the mood for unconditional love, she feels guilty and therefore even worse about herself, and less loving as a whole. She might even blame this spongy thing covered with blood for the pain she just endured. It's not the kid's fault, but he pays the price of the myth early on. And that's just the beginning of the pain of having a child.

Third, the damage of the myth on the kid. Because when you realise or suspect that mother doesn't love you unconditionally, you don't get it. That's not possible. There must be something really wrong with me for my mother not to love me like all mothers do. And so does a rather common reality become a life of misery.

Tonight, I was talking to a 22 year old daughter of a narcissistic mother. I think we both agreed that accepting that your mother doesn't really love you is difficult because it is associated with not being good enough. If I were good enough, we think, mother would love me like every mother is meant to love her child. It's a tough one to shake because the myth is so strong. But the myth has to be confronted, for the sake of mother and child.

Ian Sala – Nov 21st, 2014

 

Hell is other people...

I once saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that read: ‘The problem in life is other people'. He wasn't the first to carry this message. The French author Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that hell is other people (“L'enfer c'est les autres”). The first time, it made me laugh. These days, it makes me rather miserable. My life seems to be a constant battle against people who just can't leave me alone, and have to ruin anything I have. Right now I'm simultaneously fighting one neighbour in the city who wants to build a terrace looking into our bathroom, while in the country, another neighbour started a chicken farm and wants to build a slaughterhouse just a few yards away from us. (No, I'm not that rich, but yes we have two houses). It looks like I'm going to lose both of these battles, and I'm finding it difficult to accept.

Growing up, my mother and sister just couldn't leave me alone. I had to hide in a wardrobe to play. Even now, my family just can't leave me at peace. So I cut them all off the other day from my Facebook account, and I haven't returned any calls lately. But I know it's not the end of that. They're going to come back charging, one way or another.

So, is hell really other people? I guess not. We're not meant to be alone. And relationships with others might be the only real thing that matters in the end. But the world seems to be taken over by those who always want more, and especially what other people have. Nothing new here. The barbarians would attack the quiet peace loving villagers and take away their land, wives, goods, etc. And it's not just people taking things they envy from others, it's also people being totally inconsiderate of others. They have no sense of boundaries. Take my city neighbour for example. Her extension will give her more space and more light, at our expense. It doesn't bother her at all. She must feel entitled. Probably, she felt robbed in life (maybe by a narcissistic parent who didn't nurture her) and therefore she will take and take and take, and never feel satisfied.

I've never met this neighbour but when I think of her, I see my sister. When my sister was about 15 and I was 12, she went through a kleptomaniac phase. Once, she took me shopping with her and, while in a changing room, put a pair of trousers from the store in her bag. She then handed me the bag and told me to walk out of the store with it while she was still in the changing room. And I did. It was the early days of electronic tags but no antitheft device rang. Years later I reminded her of this episode, and she looked at me in total disbelief. Either she had wiped it out of her memory, or she was pretending she couldn't remember. My sister doesn't steal anymore I think. But she now has a very highly paid job and takes from life what she wants. Her concept of sharing with others is certainly not 50/50. It's more like ‘One for me, one for you, one for me. One for me, one for you, one for me…' But I know that deep inside she is miserable. She's stuck to our narcissistic mother like a leach. They live in the same suburb and their holiday homes are two halves of the same house. I keep telling her that she's trying to get water from an empty well, but my mother keeps on giving her just enough water to keep her hoping for more. It wouldn't bother me if my sister didn't try to control me anymore and keep me inside our mother's web. The question is, why can't I say no? Why did I take the bag outside the store when she asked me? Why do I let her come to visit whenever she wants? Why do I feel guilty if I don't say yes? How can I preserve myself and my peace without being in conflict? I don't know.

The other night, I was walking the dogs in the countryside. As I was looking at the stars and thinking that all these little human conflicts are nothing in the grand scheme of things, the moon emerged from behind a hill. It was full and the colour of dark gold. I had never seen a moon rise like this before. It felt magical, and as if the universe was confirming to me my earlier thought. I felt energised by this. But days later, we found out that one of our dear dogs was very ill. We still don't know if it's terminal or not, the results of the biopsy haven't come in yet. And then we found out that the neighbour was granted planning permission for her invasive development. I don't know how she did it, but I do know that she bought one of our neighbours. Life is very challenging at the moment, and I can't feel the optimism I felt as I was watching the moon rise. Maybe all this doesn't matter. But it's bloody painful to lose what we love. Sometimes it's other people's fault, and sometimes it's just the way life, and death, goes. I guess we can only accept all this and enjoy what we have when we have it, before the neighbour takes it away. Any thoughts?

Ian Sala – July 1st, 2014

 

Help, my best friend is a narcissist!

Shortly after understanding that my mother was a narcissist, it occurred to me that, almost all my life, I had been bullied, and in abusive relationships. It was subtle enough that it wasn't obvious until then, but it's now obvious enough that I can see it. The truth is that I was attracted to narcissistic people from very early on.

Let's start with SJ (I'll use initials or aliases to avoid anyone recognizing anyone here). I was in the same class as SJ from about 4 to 8 years old. My sister remembers me talking about SJ at home all the time. SJ this, SJ that… SJ had big brothers, which I didn't, some of them were adolescent. I remember in particular SJ telling all of us boys at school, how one of them had caught his pubic hair (or was it his foreskin?) in their jeans' zipper, and how much that hurt. SJ was the leader of the pack at school, the top dog, and kind of a bully. He did judo, and used it on some of us I think. I remember he kicked me in the balls once. But I also considered SJ to be one of my best friends. I guess SJ could be with us what he couldn't be at home. In other words, he was ‘bottom dog' at home and made up for it at school. Of course, I didn't understand that then.

I was very sad when I left school, the city, and SJ and co. I still miss those old friends and wonder what they all have become. But I also know that SJ wasn't really a good friend. I remember when, at around 5, I decided to show my penis to the entire classroom. I thought girls ought to see what a penis looked like (and it may have a link with another incident at school a year earlier when I was shamefully exposed by a teacher). Anyhow, SJ denounced me to the teacher and I was punished. Bastard.

SJ always put a brave face and played tough. He was the best at everything, even drawing, and nobody dared challenge him. I remember one day though, when the mask crumbled. It was very painful, for all of us I imagine. I remember being in a lot of pain. We were about 7 or 8 years old, and had this very strict, maybe even sadistic, teacher. Mrs S was always impeccably dressed, her hair pulled so tight that I think it even pulled her eyes back. She smelled of strong perfume, and she scared the hell out of us. She'd tell us scary stuff like how eating sand would puncture our stomachs, or how she had some explosive ink device in her handbag in case anyone tried to touch it, etc. That day, we were doing multiplication tables. SJ was called to the blackboard and he couldn't do his table. He was in tears and the teacher didn't give him a break. I remember feeling really sorry for him, especially because I knew the answers and SJ looked like a total loser, a real baby, nothing like the tough guy he usually seemed to be. I think that's what made it most painful for me: my top dog was a poodle. What did that make me? I wanted to believe in the myth SJ had sold all of us boys in our class. The myth crumbled a bit that day, but I think we all decided to forget very quickly. Maybe it's just after this that SJ kicked me in the balls. He must have wanted to punish someone.

Don't worry, I'm not going to go through every friend and girlfriend whom I let dominate and abuse me. There were other significant narcissists in my life but, today, we will focus on the guy I've considered, for most of my life, to be my best friend. We'll call him Ross today.

Ross has just spent the week-end at my place (we now live in separate countries) with his wife and 2 kids (I'm godfather to the eldest one). I feel sad and empty after his visit, hence this blog entry. It could also be that I drank too much last night, and didn't have enough sleep. This too might have a lot to do with Ross. In fact, when I first met Ross, I didn't like beer at all. Now I love it a bit too much.

I met Ross in high school at the age of 15. Ross was a year older but we were in the same class. We did 2 years together, playing games at the back of the class, and not doing much else. I then passed the final exam (just) whereas Ross failed (just), and we didn't see each other after that for another 2 or 3 years. Then we became closer than ever. We became almost like two twins until I had a 15 month assignment abroad, aged 24, and then moved to another country, where I now live. Ross has done really bizarre things since I moved abroad, and it's only now that I understand what's going on. Ross reminds me a lot of SJ. He too was, and still is amongst his aging friends, the leader of the pack.

To understand Ross you need to know his secret. We only talked once or twice about it. It's not something he mentions a lot, but it sure had an impact on him. When Ross was 6 years old I think, his 16 year old sister suddenly died while taking a shower. The cause of death, he said, was vagal inhibition. I've always wondered if it could have been something else, like a drug overdose, but I guess it wouldn't make a difference here. What Ross never told me, or told his wife, is that he stopped talking entirely for a whole year after that. I found out through Ross's elder brother. Maybe Ross doesn't even remember himself.

I don't think Ross ever had a chance to express his emotions. In fact Ross is a big emotion denier for everyone. This week-end, I witnessed Ross telling his elder boy, who was scared of watching Toy Story, that no ‘you're not scared'. Ross's wife tells me that he'll call her crazy if she expresses emotions he doesn't accept her to have. Ross is what I would call an emotional bully. He'll raise his voice, shut you up, and denigrate what you are saying. Ross reads a lot, and I wonder sometimes if he's trying to understand other's inner life and emotions through reading. Ross is not all bad, and he has many friends, and he is also very close to his siblings. He works with his elder brother. There are no real boundaries between Ross' friends and his family. Family and friends are one big thing around Ross; everyone is mixed together, married, etc. I left 16 years ago. I had to go abroad for work but I know now that I needed the distance, not just from my mother, but also from Ross and his universe.

I now understand that Ross felt abandoned when I left, and he had to punish me for this. First, Ross and friends visited a city close to where I live without inviting or notifying me. But I sure found out. Then it was my ex-girlfriend who invited everyone for summer holidays, except my new girlfriend (now wife) and me of course. And they all went. At the time I saw it as something organised by my ex-girlfriend to get back at me, but I now think Ross might have had something to do with it. When I complained to him about it, he couldn't see what wrong there was. Then, I wasn't invited to the boys' ski holidays, etc. So I stopped calling him, emailing, etc. But Ross made sure I stayed in the loop somehow. And despite the bad treatment, I still considered him to be my best friend. When I got engaged, I made him my best man. He organised a stag weekend for me. It was nice, except that we went mountain biking after a heavy meal (I had no idea what was coming) on a very hot day. I hate physical exercise and heat. He knows it.

Ross also occasionally came for work to the city I live in, without seeing me, or having just time for a coffee, but always making sure I knew he was around, sometimes very close. I felt abandoned, that was the idea of course. And then he asked me to be Godfather to his son. For a while, I couldn't understand. My wife couldn't either. We concluded that he was strange. But now I think I do understand. I was his sidekick, the ‘Watson to his Sherlock Holmes' (I read this somewhere), his emotional punching bag, and his greatest fan. In spite of my absence at his side, he still needed to feel in control, so every time I reacted angrily to something he did, he still got his narcissistic supply, and the confirmation that he was still in control. Just like my mother. But now that I understand, and that I don't react as much, I can feel that he is lost. Now that I don't go back to my home city to visit, he comes to see me. In a way, I feel really sorry for him. But I think he is now playing the victim card. That's what bullies do when intimidation doesn't work.

This week-end in particular, he kept on telling me things that sounded like his wife is a high maintenance bitch, always complaining, and making him feel bad about himself in spite of all his efforts and devotion. I almost fell in the trap. Had I fell into it, I would, like in the old days, been somehow unpleasant or aggressive towards his wife. That's what co-narcissists (co-dependents) do. We think our role is to defend the narcissist. We feel almost like Mother Theresa coming to the rescue. So we feel justified in being horrible to other people who have been unkind to our master. Yep, I was like this once. I can see why Ross would miss his lapdog.

He did manage to get to me though, and that's partly why I feel so bad today. His eldest son, my godson, was really difficult this week-end, constantly asking for attention by hitting me, poking me with a stick, being provocative, etc. I understood this to be the reaction of a child who just lost his parents' exclusive attention to his younger brother. But in spite of this intellectual understanding, part of me didn't cope with it very well. As Ross was changing his youngest son's nappy on the back seat of our new car, without protecting the seat, and leaving wet spots, his other son was scratching the side of the car with a stick, in spite of my wife's requests to stop. I lost patience and, as he poked me with the stick, emitted a load roar that scared him and made him cry. I feel horrible for losing patience with a poor child who isn't even 4 years old. I didn't mean to make the kid cry, but I did. My wife says that I react to him as if he were an adult. She might be right. I'm not good at understanding that it's just a kid. But I think as I finish this blog, that it was the little 4 year old in me, the inner angry child, who got back at Ross Jr., as if he was good old SJ.

God bless us all

Ian Sala – June 2nd, 2014

 

Did Stephen King unconsciously write about “difficult” mothers?

First I have to confess that I haven't read the book. But like many people, I saw Rob Reiner's excellent film adapted from Stephen King's Misery many years ago, and I've never forgotten it. The other day, it occurred to me that Misery was reminiscent of my experience as the son of a borderline and narcissistic mother. So I watched it again (Thank you Netflix, or was it Amazon?) Oh boy, it was like watching it for the first time. Yes, it's a great thriller and it hasn't lost anything with time. And seen from the angle of an introspective SoB, it was a whole new experience altogether. So, how does it relate to our subject?

Let's look back at the story. It starts with Paul Sheldon, a middle-aged writer, finishing a book and celebrating with a cigarette and a glass of Dom Perignon (addicts like me will relate to this). He's alone (there's only one glass). Then, flashback, we see him in New York with his publishing agent played by Lauren Bacall. We understand that he's just killed his heroin, Misery Chastain, in a book titled “Misery's child” (first clue that this story might really be about a miserable childhood). His publishing agent can't figure why he's killed his cash-cow and points out to him all the things Misery - “she” - did for him (sounds familiar?) “What thanks does she get? You go and kill her!” exclaims good old Lauren. Paul explains that Misery's taken over his life. He had to “get rid of her” in order to do something he'd be proud to have on his tombstone. Yep, Paul is trying to separate in order to live his life. But the female characters in the story, all possible representations of the mother figure, aren't happy about that...

Paul has a car accident and is rescued by the main female character in the story, Annie Wilkes. Her first words to Paul are: “I'm your number one fan”. Paul regaining consciousness in a bed in Annie's house can be seen as a metaphor for birth. And this is followed by Annie, who's a former nurse, taking care of incapacitated Paul, just like a loving mother would take care of her baby. But it doesn't take long before we realise that there's something wrong with Annie. First we find out that she was stalking Paul. Then there's that “little” sudden rage, an over-reaction to Paul's new book not meeting her approval. She spills a bit of soup on his bed and who does she blame? You've guessed right, she blames Paul: “See what you made me do?” Yep, Annie's just like my mommy.

But where's dad? Well, Dad could be seen in the only other male character in the story: the sheriff. He seems to be Paul's only chance of rescue from Annie's overbearing “care”. But the sheriff is slightly incapacitated himself. He can't drive (relies on his wife and deputy for this) and he misses the car because of his physical limitations. But he is smart and does eventually figure Annie out. However, all hope seems lost when Annie kills the sheriff just as he is about to rescue Paul. Yep, like most children of borderline or narcissistic mothers, Paul can't rely on the father figure for salvation. It's down to him, on his own, without any help and in spite of his physical inferiority. Dad could have made a difference. Or did he do his best?

Watching Paul trying desperately to escape from Annie's crazy world with her rages, abusive tirades and brutality is like reliving my adolescence. For me, the childhood part was when she was still caring and the abuse was only emotional, almost unnoticeable. Yes, there were the early signs like the lies to keep Paul from calling anyone or going anywhere (but Paul didn't know that she was lying). There was the total lack of respect for his boundaries (Annie erupting into Paul's room without even knocking). There was even the exaggerated praise (“It's not great, it's perfect […] It's divine!”) which some sons of borderline or narcissistic mothers will recognize. I do. But once Annie finds out that Paul has killed Misery i.e. metaphorically separates from the mother, Annie shows the ugly face of the abusive mom. For me, that happened when I was about 13. The rages, the beatings, the verbal abuse, all that crap really started when I stopped being as controllable as I used to be. So Paul is told things like “I thought you were good” or “if I die, you die”. Then he is shown Annie's way, the only way she will tolerate. Mommy knows best. He's going to burn his book and re-write it to her satisfaction. Even God has something to do with it, as Annie seems to have a direct line with him. Yep, spiritual abuse too is part of her arsenal.

So Paul's nightmare goes from bad to worse. It doesn't go well when he asks for a typing paper different from the one she chose, even though he can rationally justify his demand. A simple request form him is unacceptable to her, as she perceives any expression of his free will as a criticism: “I do everything to make you happy! […] But you better show me more appreciation mister man!” If that doesn't sound like the tirade of an abusive parent to a child, I don't know what does.

The horror of Paul's predicament culminates when she finds out that he has left his room, so she brakes both his ankles with a sledge hammer as a result (Apparently, in the book she cuts his foot off. Symbol of castration anyone?) She does it very calmly and then “rewards” him with a “God, I love you!” Yep, the borderline and/or narcissistic mother loves knowing that her child can't go away from her anymore. Motherly love is the reward for being stuck with mommy.

So did Stephen King write about a “difficult” mother? Apparently King sees Paul's battle for independence from Annie as a metaphor for his own battle with alcohol addiction. This may be the case. As a drinker and former smoker myself, I can see the parallel. But I also think that drinking or any other addiction is itself in a way a metaphor for the abusive relationships of my past. Last time I stopped drinking for a little while, it was motivated by the realisation that I had a really bad relationship with the bottle in the same way I had a really bad relationship with my mother (when I was still attached) and then with a girlfriend or two, and also with my best friend. It was/is a toxic relationship that goes one way and only masks its destructive effect with temporary highs (or relief). So maybe Stephen's King drinking problem is, like mine, only a front; the bottle that hides the forest. But there's no doubt in my mind that Misery is really about a childhood and adolescence with an abusive mother.

Good luck to us

Ian Sala - May 13, 2014

 

 

 

 

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